Catholics are Mainstream America Print
Written by Michael Fones   
Tuesday, 10 July 2007 21:47
Please click here to be directed to a sobering report of a random survey of some 4018 Catholics recently conducted by the Barna Group ( that examined 97 different facets of the lives of Catholics (beliefs, behaviors and attitudes), comparing them to national norms. The outcome is disturbing: we are "virtually indistinguishable from people aligned with other faith groups - except in the area of faith."

George Barna, the founder of the organization, is Protestant, and the surveys likely reflect in some ways an evangelical outlook. Nevertheless, they provide useful information, and have been used by Catholic parishes and other Catholic organizations. So taking the report with a grain of salt doesn't diminish my dismay at the results.

According to the report, "of the dozen faith-oriented behaviors tested, Catholics strayed from the norm in relation to eight of the 12 items. Specifically, the typical Catholic person donated about 17% less money to churches; was 38% less likely than the average American to read the Bible; 67% less likely to attend a Sunday school class; 20% less likely to share their faith in Christ with someone who had different beliefs; 24% less likely to say their religious faith has greatly transformed their life; and were 36% less likely to have an "active faith," which Barna defined as reading the Bible, praying and attending a church service during the prior week."

Also disturbing was the fact that in spite of all the attempts at catechesis through Catholic schools, CCD, sacramental preparation classes, and homilies, the respondents "were more likely than the norm to say that Satan is not real; to believe that eternal salvation is earned; and to contend that Jesus Christ sinned while on earth."

If I had hair, I'd be pulling it out.

Barna's assessment at the end of the report is insightful, I believe.

"The history of American Catholics is that of a pool of immigrants who have successfully blended into the native culture. They have done well at adapting to their surroundings and emerging to become a backbone of the community and the national economy. The questions raised fifty years ago about the political loyalties and social objectives of Catholics are no longer relevant in this society," Barna commented. "Yet, the cost of that struggle to achieve acceptance and legitimacy is that Catholics have largely lost touch with much of their substantive spiritual heritage. They retain an appreciation for tradition and consistency, but have much less of a commitment to knowing and practicing the commands of Christ. For instance, the data show that some of their long-held distinctives, such as being champions of social justice, are no longer a defining facet of their community."

"The trail of Catholicism in America is a clear example of culture influencing faith more often than faith influencing culture," Barna continued. "The faith of tens of millions of Catholics is affected by the prevailing culture more than by the central principles and teachings of the Bible. Spiritual leaders who are passionate about remaining true to the scriptures and to Catholicism’s historic commitment to Jesus Christ and the Word of God must address this spiritual drift within the body. If they fail to do so, in the next quarter century American Catholicism could well lose its ability to shape people’s minds and hearts in ways that conform to the historic teachings and purposes of Christianity."

The Second Vatican Council was meant to turn Catholics to the world - not to be assimilated by it, but to transform it through their faith. The problem, as far as my limited brain can analyze it, isn't with the teachings of the council, but with their lack of implementation. The Church exists to evangelize, according to "Evangelization in the Modern World" and to give praise to God through the liturgy. We can't focus on only one or the other without serious repurcussions. We've done just that, and Barna's survey illustrates the consequences.